Understanding Your Dog's Behavior at Wags

First things first: we absolutely love getting dogs in our stores! Wags to Wiskers Pet Supplies is a not just pet-friendly, we’re pet-overly-friendly and we’re sure to spoil the pets that make their way into our dog paradise. But, it’s clear to us that not every dog thinks of pet stores as a paradise for one reason or another. Our staff was just recently trained by renowned local dog trainer Michelle McCarthy of K9 Home Schooling and we’re happy to pass along some information that seems vital for our southeast Michigan dog owners.

Managing your Dog in the Store

All pets should be on a leash to ensure supervision by their owner. We love a well-behaved dog as much as anybody else, but sometimes the sights, smells, and sounds of a Wags to Wiskers Pet Supplies shop is completely overwhelming for dogs, bringing out their most excitable sides. All pets should be handled by an adult, or if pets are with children they should be supervised by an adult. This should be rather self-explanatory, but we only bring it up due to experience. A scenario that consists of the adult a few aisles over picking out dog food as their pet drags around a young child on a leash is not supervision 🙃 Not all dogs are ready for pet stores, and we’ve seen enough embarrassed pet owners to understand that it’s not a fun position to be in. We’ll do our best to help our customers as much as we can regardless!

Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior

As the dog owner, you know your pet’s behavior, triggers, and warning signs better than anybody else. These are important to communicate to other shoppers, staff, and other dog owners in the store. For dogs, being in the pet store can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers or puppies. For shoppers without dogs, don’t assume that every puppy or dog wants to be handled by you! Unfortunately, you are a stranger to them and not all dogs react to strangers with kisses and wagging tails.

If you’ve gotten permission to approach a dog, it’s best not to instigate any behaviors if you can help it. This means approaching the dog in a positive, relaxed manner that isn’t overblown by excitement or energy. Dogs will behave according to the manner in which we greet them, so it’s important to understand that more often than not the human sets the tone in the greeting.

Reading Dog Body Language

Dogs can reveal their emotions and intentions through body language. If you look closely, he or she can tell you what they’re feeling and what they’re likely to do next. Some of the major things to look at when reading canine body language are body position and shape, tail position and shape, and ears, teeth, pupils, and eyes. Be on the lookout for vocalizations as well such as whimpering, growling, barking, or whining.

Offensively Threatening Dog Wags to Wiskers

See these diagrams and descriptions for some basic, but more in-depth knowledge on what to look for.

Offensively threatening dogs will usually show one or more of the following characteristics: stiff posture and standing tall, hackles raised, tail straight up (it could even be wagging), ears forward, staring, teeth bared to varying degrees, barking and/or growling, and body shape oriented toward the perceived threat.

Fearful Dog Wags to Wiskers

Fearful dogs show display some similar characteristics, albeit with some noticeable differences mixed in as well. A fearful or submissive dog will commonly have a crouched body posture, possibly even lying down and exposing the belly. The tail will often be tucked between the legs, with ears pushed back while avoiding eye contact and physical proximity with the perceived threat.

Defensively Threatening Dog Wags to Wiskers

Defensively threatening dogs will typically be crouched or lower to the ground with hackles raised. Ears will be back or down with teeth bared, and growling and barking is not uncommon. The tail could be tucked, straight out, or down.

Playful Dog Wags to Wiskers

Lastly, playful dogs are a bit more difficult to describe simply due to the variety of happy, friendly behaviors we have seen exhibited over the years. Despite the diversity in characteristics, it is generally one of those things where “you’ll know it when you see it.” Playful dogs might be bowing in a “pouncing” stance with a wagging tail while exhibiting a mixture of different kinds of behavior, flipping back and forth between submisson, predation, or courtship.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to understand what your dog is communicating not only for yourself, but for the safety of others, whether it’s in store, at the dog park, in the neighborhood, or even in your own home. Hope you learned something here, and if you want to learn more, stop by your local Wags to Wiskers Pet Supplies in Ann Arbor (2425 W. Stadium Blvd, Ann Arbor, MI, 48103) or Chelsea (1192 S. Main St, Chelsea, MI, 48118) and ask an associate for referrals or training resources! You can also register for dog training classes with Michelle McCarthy on her website.